Are belts the way to go (from a brown belt)?

Urban Trekker

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So i just skimmed the thread, but it seems to have devolved into the whole "belts are ego/insecurity/money-making schemes". I get that viewpoint, but don't agree. I've trained in systems/schools both with belts and without. It's very low on my list of priorities when visiting a school, but I do like belts, for a couple reasons.

1. I'm a very organized individual. And can get information overload fairly easily. If I know that, learning something new, at X belt I should be learning Y, that's what I'll do. And then keep learning Y when I move onto Z, but it sets up a progression for me that I'm not having to figure out by myself.

2. I'm human. It is motivating to have something to strive for. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I achieve it, and I know that I have to work harder if either I a: am not offered a promotion/test when I thought I was ready (has happened), or b: failed a test (has also happened). Like I said, I'll still train systems without it, so I don't need that motivation, but having an extra goal is certainly not a bad thing.

3. In line with two-it provides feedback. I've got no issue directly asking an instructor/coach/partner what I'm doing wrong, but I've seen both new and old students that do. Failing/passing/not being tested provides feedback that you're on the right track, or something's amiss, and can encourage people to ask their instructor what their lacking.

4. As an experienced martial artist, it helps when I try out a new school. I immediately know who's experienced relative to the school/class in session. That means that once I work with one or two people, I can estimate the general level of the belts at the school, and have an idea of where someone will be at when I work with them. So if I spar with a few black belts, and they're not all that accomplished, then I spar with an orange belt, I know from the getgo to take it easy. Vs. If I sparred with the same people, I might think that the "black belts" are newer students, and it would take me longer to feel out the school itself.

5. It gives new students clear instructions on who to emulate/listen to. I'm sure we've all seen those people with 3 months under their belt (heh), trying to teach everyone else exactly how to do things. If a new student just came in, they might listen to them over someone with more experience, simply because that other student sounds more confident. If they can see a difference in rank, it makes it easier for them to know who to listen to.

Obviously all of the above have some caveats, it's not perfect and there are negatives of belts. Just thought I'd put in a few reasons why their useful, since I feel like I much more often read all the negatives and not as much of the positives.
All good points, and I agree 100%.

However, in the martial arts community, people who "chase belts" are often shamed for it (which I don't agree with), presumably because those belts end up becoming a source of validation, or ego, or whatever.

Okay, great.

But can the shoe be put on the other foot to say that consciously choosing a particular art because it lacks a belt ranking system is merely the opposite side of that same coin?

Note that the OP only took issue with the belt ranking system after failing a test. He wasn't trying to seek out a belt-less art before that.
 

Gerry Seymour

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All good points, and I agree 100%.

However, in the martial arts community, people who "chase belts" are often shamed for it (which I don't agree with), presumably because those belts end up becoming a source of validation, or ego, or whatever.
[/QUOTE]
Agreed. If someone wants to collect belts for the sake of having ranks, I don't really see a problem. I could see it being an issue if someone purposely chooses places where rank is easy to get, then acts as if their ranks make them better than someone training where rank is harder to get.
Okay, great.

But can the shoe be put on the other foot to say that consciously choosing a particular art because it lacks a belt ranking system is merely the opposite side of that same coin?

Note that the OP only took issue with the belt ranking system after failing a test. He wasn't trying to seek out a belt-less art before that.
The way I look at it, if it's okay to pursue rank rather than focusing directly on the skill progression, it's also okay to want no rank to pursue and just focus directly on skill progression. Just opposite sides of the same coin.
 

Tez3

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Hold on. Any self respecting cowboy plays the guitar.

What do the ones with low self esteem play?
Agreed. If someone wants to collect belts for the sake of having ranks, I don't really see a problem. I could see it being an issue if someone purposely chooses places where rank is easy to get, then acts as if their ranks make them better than someone training where rank is harder to get.

The way I look at it, if it's okay to pursue rank rather than focusing directly on the skill progression, it's also okay to want no rank to pursue and just focus directly on skill progression. Just opposite sides of the same coin.
[/QUOTE]

Agreed, it's really what suits or is best for the student. Accepting someone's path even though it's different from yours is really the only way to be.
 

Martial D

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Some for sure. But that school I trained at in high school had some pretty tough dudes in it. Looks like it's still around: Greenlake Martial Arts |Tsun Jo Wing Chun Kung Fu |Self-Defense| Seattle, WA | U. District | Ballard

Called Tsun Jo now, but in the mid-80s, it was a Wing Chun school. I don't know how good it is for self defense, but they could fight.
Sure. But anyone that says..hey I'm a black belt in wing chun..eyes will roll lol. Because there are no belts in CMA..
 
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Charlie B

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Hey (been travelling today and couldn't respond but this became a very long thread).

I read it as the belt progression masking his (now perceived) lack of progress in skill.

That's exactly it - would have I posted this if I'd sailed through - probably not, but I'm reflecting on the process.

Am I just bitter and disgruntled - no, I'm big enough to know and say if that was the case and other than a little disappointed and embarrassed I am not 'storming off' to another class because I wasn't given a belt/sash (I'm probably using them interchangeably).

I think I am probably also, to some extent, chasing belts, and like others have said, this can be a positive if, in parallel, you are getting better, but it can be negative if you're treating it like a tick box exercise.

An analogy (which works for me). When I was little my mum made me play the piano for a few years, and the teacher made me take exams. I had to learn 3 pieces of music for each exam. Could I play those pieces well? Yes! But do I consider myself able to play the piano - not at all - I had no understanding of music theory, I just learned the pieces robotically until I was good enough to take the exam.

I know there is some amount of repetition e.g. the forms and I know the classes work for some people. So maybe it's MY attitude that needs to change, I focus on going to classes for a while and learning understanding applications and treat the grading as an 'extra' rather than the sole purpose of training. i.e. decide what my criteria for success is and change my focus.

Hope that makes sense. Thanks again for all your comments.
 

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Hey (been travelling today and couldn't respond but this became a very long thread).



That's exactly it - would have I posted this if I'd sailed through - probably not, but I'm reflecting on the process.

Am I just bitter and disgruntled - no, I'm big enough to know and say if that was the case and other than a little disappointed and embarrassed I am not 'storming off' to another class because I wasn't given a belt/sash (I'm probably using them interchangeably).

I think I am probably also, to some extent, chasing belts, and like others have said, this can be a positive if, in parallel, you are getting better, but it can be negative if you're treating it like a tick box exercise.
Most people start out chasing belts, because that's sort of how western culture programs them. Over time, one of three things usually happens:
1 - they quit training
2 - they get their merit badge and quit
3 - they figure out that the belt isn't that important and keep training.
The number of people who continue chasing belts for belts sake is, in my experience, fairly small.
 

Callen

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If they sell the actual belts, they usually make a couple of bucks on the belt (literally). If they charge for testing, it depends how that's handled (a $20 testing fee isn't much of a cash grab, and a larger testing fee is a cash grab if it isn't offset by monthly fees being lower).

There's this perception among some that belts = more money. No place I've ever trained (and most had belts at all levels) had enough of a testing fee or promotion fee for it to be worth the trouble. The ranks were there either because they thought them useful, they thought they'd market better, or (most often) simply because that's what they were used to from where they trained.

Perhaps there's more of a correlation among CMA, but just the fact that they have a belt system doesn't really tell us that.

I agree with you, its not just about money. There are many useful benefits to using the belt system.

The folks that have commented in this post who are from non-Chinese Martial Arts backgrounds are most likely going to justify the belt system and thats understandable, because it works for them. Belts are part of their history and training. They represent a proud identity and are the result of a lot of hard work and achievement.

The belt system has also been part of Japanese Martial Arts culture since Jigoro Kano invited it back in the late 1800s. Others have adopted it seamlessly over the years. Kung Fu styles however, are a bit different when it comes to adopting the belt system. It never gained acceptance in China, so the belt system didnt make its way into Chinese Martial Arts. That type of reward system does not typically fit Kung Fu curriculum.

Belt systems and ranking are only successful when the curriculum is built to support it. A belt system in Wing Chun (or any Kung Fu style) can be very difficult to maintain correctly, mostly due to the fact that the Wing Chun curriculum is not well suited for that type of progress measurement. Thats typically why most Wing Chun lineages do not use it. Globally speaking, very few do and most do not.

Since Wing Chun is a concept based system, creating a belt rank for arbitrary intervals of the Wing Chun system can make it tricky for practitioners to continually see the whole picture, but not impossible. There are a few Wing Chun schools that make belts work; but unfortunately in terms of conveying the big picture of the system successfully, there are many Wing Chun schools that have also failed when using the belt system.

Im not arguing for or against belts. I just wanted to throw out why the majority of Wing Chun practitioners do not feel the need to adopt it into our Chinese Martial Art curriculum.
 

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You may notice that some posts have been deleted, as they were off topic and disruptive. Everyone is reminded to avoid personal attacks. Limited thread drift is natural and accepted.

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Nuuli

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I've been training with a Wing Chun group for the last 5 years. Once or twice per week. I've taken two gradings per year and I've always felt like the gradings were good motivation for learning i.e. when I knew there was a grading coming up I would practice.

I recently failed my second brown. Feeling pretty gutted however it's making me reflect on my progress over the last few years which I think is helpful.

First up, I'm not bitter, I wasn't good. I got very flustered on the forms we were tested on and in particular the dummy. I admire our Sifu and he really knows his stuff so this is in no way a criticism of him.

My biggest concern is that I'm not sure I'm progressing. I started wing chun for the self defence benefits and I said I wasn't going to take any belts, but then I've but carried along with the process a bit and now I feel like they're being used as a measure of progress, when I'm not sure they always are. In some ways I'm glad I failed as it's making me reflect; in some ways I've been training very specifically for the grading in terms of the combinations we're asked to demonstrate, but I don't think I necessarily understand what I'm doing and doubt I could use it in a real confrontation. Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical movements in order to gain a belt. We do very little contact training, given this has been impacted negatively by covid but I'm wondering if I need to change clubs to somewhere less 'belt focused'?
Hi Charlie, from what I understand, you've been training in Wing Chun for 5 year but was flustered on the forms and the dummy. Okay, besides class time, how much time are you practicing on the forms. How much time are you devoting to "homework"? Practicing on your own or even hooking up with a classmate to go over what you've learned? And do you have access to a dummy to practice with. Honestly, you'd probably be better off as another said and take up some "boxing", you'll get more quicker with that and more realistic scenarios. You'll get immediate feedback as to how you perform in a high stress situation. There is really no passive way to deal with a violent situation except learning to potential situations. There's more to self defense than physical contact. Right now having good hand skills with grappling is the way to go imho.
 
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Charlie B

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Hi Charlie, from what I understand, you've been training in Wing Chun for 5 year but was flustered on the forms and the dummy. Okay, besides class time, how much time are you practicing on the forms. How much time are you devoting to "homework"? Practicing on your own or even hooking up with a classmate to go over what you've learned? And do you have access to a dummy to practice with. Honestly, you'd probably be better off as another said and take up some "boxing", you'll get more quicker with that and more realistic scenarios. You'll get immediate feedback as to how you perform in a high stress situation. There is really no passive way to deal with a violent situation except learning to potential situations. There's more to self defense than physical contact. Right now having good hand skills with grappling is the way to go imho.
Thanks for this Nuuli, completely agree with all of that and I could do a lot more practicing at home and trying to access a dummy. Learning the forms is so fundamental I should be working on them a lot more consistently. That's something I've struggled with a lot i.e. how to do practice at home.

That's something I think belts are a very good motivation for - they make sure you practice.

Like I say I'm absolutely not blaming anyone but myself for my failure, but was reflecting on whether I was getting better - maybe this was just the kick up the a__ I needed to make me train more wisely. There are a lot of things I love about wing chun and the classes. My post should probably have been called 'how can I get better at WC'.

One question - When you say grappling do you mean wing chun grappling or another martial art.
 
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Gerry Seymour

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Hey (been travelling today and couldn't respond but this became a very long thread).



That's exactly it - would have I posted this if I'd sailed through - probably not, but I'm reflecting on the process.

Am I just bitter and disgruntled - no, I'm big enough to know and say if that was the case and other than a little disappointed and embarrassed I am not 'storming off' to another class because I wasn't given a belt/sash (I'm probably using them interchangeably).

I think I am probably also, to some extent, chasing belts, and like others have said, this can be a positive if, in parallel, you are getting better, but it can be negative if you're treating it like a tick box exercise.

An analogy (which works for me). When I was little my mum made me play the piano for a few years, and the teacher made me take exams. I had to learn 3 pieces of music for each exam. Could I play those pieces well? Yes! But do I consider myself able to play the piano - not at all - I had no understanding of music theory, I just learned the pieces robotically until I was good enough to take the exam.

I know there is some amount of repetition e.g. the forms and I know the classes work for some people. So maybe it's MY attitude that needs to change, I focus on going to classes for a while and learning understanding applications and treat the grading as an 'extra' rather than the sole purpose of training. i.e. decide what my criteria for success is and change my focus.

Hope that makes sense. Thanks again for all your comments.
I think most of us get into pursuing the rank for its own sake at some point. Mine was sporadic. I'd sit at a rank for much longer than those around me, then suddenly want to be that next rank and train with the test in mind for a month or so. But many of my training partners weren't that sporadic. Some pushed to get to the next rank as fast as they could, because that motivated them. Others wanted to be the best ____ belt (whatever their current rank was) and wouldn't want to promote until they felt like they'd won that "compeition", because that motivated them. Others just drifted along and did what they were told, because the challenge of the class and the sense of community were what motivated them.

Folks who didn't find something to motivate them enough left.

I can't say any of those (including the last group) got it wrong.
 

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I agree with you, its not just about money. There are many useful benefits to using the belt system.

The folks that have commented in this post who are from non-Chinese Martial Arts backgrounds are most likely going to justify the belt system and thats understandable, because it works for them. Belts are part of their history and training. They represent a proud identity and are the result of a lot of hard work and achievement.

The belt system has also been part of Japanese Martial Arts culture since Jigoro Kano invited it back in the late 1800s. Others have adopted it seamlessly over the years. Kung Fu styles however, are a bit different when it comes to adopting the belt system. It never gained acceptance in China, so the belt system didnt make its way into Chinese Martial Arts. That type of reward system does not typically fit Kung Fu curriculum.

Belt systems and ranking are only successful when the curriculum is built to support it. A belt system in Wing Chun (or any Kung Fu style) can be very difficult to maintain correctly, mostly due to the fact that the Wing Chun curriculum is not well suited for that type of progress measurement. Thats typically why most Wing Chun lineages do not use it. Globally speaking, very few do and most do not.

Since Wing Chun is a concept based system, creating a belt rank for arbitrary intervals of the Wing Chun system can make it tricky for practitioners to continually see the whole picture, but not impossible. There are a few Wing Chun schools that make belts work; but unfortunately in terms of conveying the big picture of the system successfully, there are many Wing Chun schools that have also failed when using the belt system.

Im not arguing for or against belts. I just wanted to throw out why the majority of Wing Chun practitioners do not feel the need to adopt it into our Chinese Martial Art curriculum.
I'm not knowledgeable on WC, so I may be entirely off base here, but I'm not sure ranks are as incompatible with WC as all that. My primary art (Nihon Goshin Aikido) is - by my understanding - concept-based. The techniques taught are all about developing specific priniciples and mechanics, to the extent that some of the techniques seem quite silly if you try to make them usable in direct application. But those techniques have been divided into groups for belts. The progression was already there, but the belts weren't (no evidence the student ranks existed before it came to the US). The system could be taught without the belts, or even with a different ranking system (I originally reduced it from 5 to 3 colored belts when I changed my curriculum).

I don't think ranks have to be baked into the culture of a system to be usable. Of course, I also don't know it's worth the trouble to add them to a system - you'd have to figure out what the breakpoints are that make sense, and that takes more work than it's likely worth in most cases.
 

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I've never set foot into a wing chun kwoon, but when a WC guy says that belts are not incompatible with wing chun, I'll take his word for it. Mostly because I can imagine the kind of failure it would be to bring belts into boxing or wrestling, so they won't work for every art.
 
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Steve

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I've never set foot into a wing chun kwoon, but when a WC guy says that belts are not incompatible with wing chun, I'll take his word for it. Mostly because I can imagine the kind of failure it would be to bring belts into boxing or wrestling, so they won't work for every art.
Belts could work very easily in wrestling or boxing. The reason they aren't there is more to do with culture than function. BJJ and submission wrestling both use belt systems very effectively in a very similar competitive structure as wrestling. Only difference is in wrestling, you have intramural, JV, Varsity, various levels of collegiate wrestling. They're naturally broken out by age and within each broad age category, by skill level, but do the same thing as a belt system: broadly separate people by skill level and age to make competition relatively fair.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that it's a good idea to introduce belts into freestyle or other styles of wrestling. Only pointing out that belts are already used successfully in some styles of wrestling (submission/no-gi wrestling, BJJ, Judo, Sambo, etc.) and could work just the same in freestyle wrestling, if desired.
 

Urban Trekker

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Belts could work very easily in wrestling or boxing. The reason they aren't there is more to do with culture than function. BJJ and submission wrestling both use belt systems very effectively in a very similar competitive structure as wrestling. Only difference is in wrestling, you have intramural, JV, Varsity, various levels of collegiate wrestling. They're naturally broken out by age and within each broad age category, by skill level, but do the same thing as a belt system: broadly separate people by skill level and age to make competition relatively fair.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that it's a good idea to introduce belts into freestyle or other styles of wrestling. Only pointing out that belts are already used successfully in some styles of wrestling (submission/no-gi wrestling, BJJ, Judo, Sambo, etc.) and could work just the same in freestyle wrestling, if desired.

Here's why I'm saying it wouldn't work in boxing or wrestling: I'm not sure exactly what Callen means when he says that wing chun is "concept-based," but maybe it's similar to this:

- In JMA with belt-rank systems, the focus is initially on individual techniques at the lower ranks. In the case of karate, for example; every punch, every kick, every block, etc. In the case of Judo, every throw, every take down, etc. You continuously do repetition on each, and you learn new ones as you move up. Again, the focus is on each and every individual technique in the beginning. And then as you move up, you later begin to look at the big picture.
- In boxing and (western) wrestling, the focus on the big picture is almost immediate. They'll give you the techniques up front, and then you hone them and become better at executing them from there.

If you introduced belts into boxing or wrestling, the basis of those belts would have to be "how good you are," not what techniques you've demonstrated knowledge of.
 

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Here's why I'm saying it wouldn't work in boxing or wrestling: I'm not sure exactly what Callen means when he says that wing chun is "concept-based," but maybe it's similar to this:

- In JMA with belt-rank systems, the focus is initially on individual techniques at the lower ranks. In the case of karate, for example; every punch, every kick, every block, etc. In the case of Judo, every throw, every take down, etc. You continuously do repetition on each, and you learn new ones as you move up. Again, the focus is on each and every individual technique in the beginning. And then as you move up, you later begin to look at the big picture.
- In boxing and (western) wrestling, the focus on the big picture is almost immediate. They'll give you the techniques up front, and then you hone them and become better at executing them from there.

If you introduced belts into boxing or wrestling, the basis of those belts would have to be "how good you are," not what techniques you've demonstrated knowledge of.
I think BJJ has a similar structure. Their catalog of techniques is pretty flexible. Their ranking is (at least in places I've been to) sometimes based on a foundation set for the first stripes, but mostly based on who you can roll with after that. While I don't see any reason a boxing gym should use ranks, I think they could easily adopt the common BJJ model for ranking.

You're right that the common JMA approach of ranking based on how far you've gotten into the catalog of techniques wouldn't work.
 

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You're right that the common JMA approach of ranking based on how far you've gotten into the catalog of techniques wouldn't work.
I think your guys are right about wrestling and boxing being problematic to add a belt system to... and that there really would appear to be no benefit.

From my (admittedly limited) Wing Chun experience, it doesn't need belts... but they in no way seem incompatible.

The WT school I went to had no ranks... but students were divided along which form they were learning.

- Twice a year, they would accept a new group to begin learning 1st form (Siu Lim Tao). This seems like an obvious 'White Belt'.

- Should you stick it out for a year or so (I moved away and couldn't keep going) they'd start teaching 2nd Form (call that Blue belt).

Then there was 3rd Form and the dummy form. (Purple and Brown belts?)

After learning them all and being judged proficient, that's an easy parallel to black belt... and like BJJ, there (to my knowledge) isn't any formalized curriculum after that. Lineage and time in rank form the basis of higher Dan ranks.

Again. No arts really Need belts; but all in all, the WT curriculum doesn't seem so incompatible to me.
 

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I think your guys are right about wrestling and boxing being problematic to add a belt system to... and that there really would appear to be no benefit.

From my (admittedly limited) Wing Chun experience, it doesn't need belts... but they in no way seem incompatible.

The WT school I went to had no ranks... but students were divided along which form they were learning.

- Twice a year, they would accept a new group to begin learning 1st form (Siu Lim Tao). This seems like an obvious 'White Belt'.

- Should you stick it out for a year or so (I moved away and couldn't keep going) they'd start teaching 2nd Form (call that Blue belt).

Then there was 3rd Form and the dummy form. (Purple and Brown belts?)

After learning them all and being judged proficient, that's an easy parallel to black belt... and like BJJ, there (to my knowledge) isn't any formalized curriculum after that. Lineage and time in rank form the basis of higher Dan ranks.

Again. No arts really Need belts; but all in all, the WT curriculum doesn't seem so incompatible to me.
This is kind of what I was thinking. The very little I know of WC is that there are multiple forms. Ranks could simply align with those - every new form = new rank. I don't know that it'd add anything useful, nor that it'd detract in any meaningful way.
 
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